Fallen Stars and Shining Stars: Which Does Your SPD Have?

Who’s running your sterile processing department (SPD)? If the answer to this question is a “fallen star” from another department in the organization, you may have taken on a bigger problem than you had before. What is a fallen star? It’s the person who seems to rub others the wrong way or weren’t successful in their previous assignment. Ask yourself why you think they are going to be successful running your SPD.

Our experience at SIPS Healthcare Consultants has found that many organizations don’t understand the importance of putting the right people in charge of running the SPD.

The SPD is responsible for one of the largest revenue streams in the organization — the operating room (OR). Organizations continue to lose money through canceled cases, the right instruments not at the right place at the right time, or because they are paying millions of dollars on infections caused by residual bioburden on instruments or problematic flash sterilization practices.

An SPD manager must know more than how to manage the budget. He/she must have a thorough understanding of the department. They also must have the appropriate leadership team. If one person isn’t as strong at a particular task, the other one is and vice versa. Plainly speaking, it doesn’t matter how many trays are prepared and how many cases go up if they are not correct.

You may want to rethink your fallen star and focus on the potential within the department. The possibility exists that there is a “shining star” amongst the team that could benefit from mentoring and opportunity. I’ve met several SPD technicians who have become excellent SPD supervisors, managers and directors. During my tenure, my path has included technician III, supervisor, manager, and eventually director of an SPD. This experience has led to my current career as a healthcare consultant. My success is a direct result of someone seeing my potential as a shining star and mentoring me along the way.

Be patient and research your options. Consulting companies can assist with the mentoring of any shining star you may have or provide you with interim management until the right person is selected. Doesn’t it make more sense to invest in temporary support until you find the right candidate, as opposed to promoting the fallen star who, more than likely, won’t last more than a couple of years? If you aren’t from the SPD world, you have no idea how stressful and thankless the position can be from management down to staffing.

In order to help meet staff members’ needs, you must understand them. SPD supports ORs, emergency departments, labor and delivery departments, and many others. Don’t sacrifice your organization by jeopardizing patient care because someone wants to cut corners in the SPD.

A colleague of mine uses the following phrase in reference to SPD: “No one wants to talk about how ugly the baby is, but the baby is ugly.” I say odds are, if you have an ugly baby, you may want to look at the parent(s), because chances are the debacle department is a reflection of its leader(s).

I started writing this article more than a year ago while consulting for an SPD with a fallen star. Unfortunately, the organization didn’t want to deal with the root of the problem, the manager’s inappropriate behavior and inability to run the SPD. They felt if the right processes were put in place, the problems would go away. In less than two years the fallen star was removed from the position and the hunt was on again to fill the position. This is called the cost of non-conformance, doing it right the first time.

SPD needs strong management that doesn’t just stay within the budget, but understands the needs of the staff members, their peers, their supporting staff, and most of all, the organization’s needs as a whole. They need to understand how to be creative with what they have as well as how to present statistical findings. There also should be an educational program in the department, plans for staff seminar participation, workshops, and conferences. Do your homework; there are companies that will come to your facility to meet your educational objectives.

I’m not saying that SPD issues don’t go beyond having a strong leader, but what I am saying is, where there is smoke, there is fire, as the old adage goes. Are you tired of putting out fires on a daily basis, interviewing technicians on a weekly basis, or watching the manager’s position turn over every couple of years? If so, stop settling and invest in the right people and expect the same from them. Before you know it, the days of high turnover and disgruntled customers will be a thing of the past. ICT

Karen Y. Cherry is president of SIPS Healthcare Consults, LLC.